Somehow, within all of the chaotic business that happens during our mornings – the hunting for homework and packing of lunches and rushing out the door – it was discovered that Sage’s dear mice, Squeakers and Cheese, had passed away in the night. They had plenty of food and fresh water, their cage had been recently tended to. Their deaths seem to be the kind that happen in the natural course of life. Their little lives were lived at such an accelerated pace they were only with us for a few short months. These little furry companions were what Sage wanted the very, very most as her special holiday present this year. Oh, sweet Sage. My little lover of all things small and innocent.
This sad discovery was made just moments after Sage blew me a kiss and ran out the door to take on her day, but before her brother and younger sister were ready to head off for theirs. My heart sank. I knew this sequence of events presented a situation that could potentially end in tragedy. This kind of news needs to be delivered gently. This is not the type of loss she should learn about from the mouths of her also grieving siblings. We quickly communicated to the school staff what had happened and we all agreed that she should be kept separate from her brother and sister during the normal happenings of their school days. They don’t usually have the opportunity to talk to one another, but all of the adults took extra care to ensure there was no way for her to hear this news from anyone but us. To their credit, the staff even called me at home this afternoon to make sure that I would be meeting Sage at her classroom door to facilitate the inevitable moment when she would learn of her loss.
I sat in a chair near her classroom and waited with Freja at my side. I watched her pack up her belongings and hug her teacher goodbye. Willow found us waiting and waited with us. I knew that the first thing her little sisters would want to talk about would be the death of Squeakers and Cheese, so I didn’t have the luxury of waiting until we were safely tucked away at home. I told her right away. It made my heart break to look into her eyes and break hers. I told her that they had passed away and her face immediately fell blank. Then the tears began to well up, then they began to fall, and fall and fall. I just held her and let her feel the deep sadness that overcame her.
As we slowly walked home, I watched her move through the stages of grief with grace and purity of heart. She didn’t hesitate, not even for a single moment, before completely letting go and surrendering to her pain. She cried, she hugged her friends who spoke the comforting words eight-year-olds know. She raged at the injustice of such a short time together and spoke of her sadness and longing. We found our way inside and she found her way to the art table. Sage creates, it’s what she does. She wrote a letter of love and goodbye as tears continued to roll off her soft flushed cheeks.
Earlier in the afternoon Freja and I had prepared a small grave under one of the beautiful flowering trees behind our house. When Sage was ready we solemnly moved outside in our small funeral procession. One of Sage’s friends joined us on the way and quietly placed a black bonnet atop Sage’s head as a sign of mourning. Sage said a few words and held them for the last time. She tucked them gently into their earthy grave and covered them with care. The children drifted away and I left Sage to say her final goodbyes. She says she prayed for them.
As a parent it’s so hard to watch your child hurt. It’s hard to know what to do in those inevitable moments of pain that punctuate childhood. Today I simply chose to let her lead, to let her show me what she needed. I didn’t say much other than, “I love you” and “I’m so sorry.”
As I scribe these last few words I can hear laughter drifting in through the front windows. It’s warm enough to turn the hose on and all of the children in the neighborhood have gathered out front to splash and scream and giggle. Sage is right in the thick of it. I envy her ability to let herself sink deeply into the depths of pain and loss one moment, then bob right back up and regain her sense of joy and wonder in the next. She teaches me so much.
Rest peacefully Squeakers and Cheese.